Throughout my career, I’ve worked at places that focus on some of the biggest problems facing our nation. Defense. Security. Important stuff. I am so grateful there are people doing that work. I went to work each day to collaborate with many smart people, and I had the privilege to make contributions to these fields for over a decade.
Today, I’m doing something completely new and different. At Root Inc., I’m still doing critically important work, by focusing on strategy, people, and culture to help organizations and leaders achieve change. These days I focus on the “hard” stuff – the actual strategies and plans, and also the “soft” side of business too – the people and the personalities that are the hearts and minds of an organization. Just when you think you know it all, you’re reminded that you don’t. The continuous learning is part of the appeal and keeps every day interesting and fun for me.
During the past six months at Root, I’ve reset the way I look at people and their role in change. In my previous roles, I can recall many times I held townhall-style meetings, using a traditional PowerPoint to deliver a scripted message to a full room. It was what was expected of me. It was part of what I had to do to be viewed as a good director. In hindsight, I think what I was doing was more like taking hostages, telling people about a revised future state but not inspiring them, not motivating them, and certainly not engaging them in their upcoming journey.
Working at Root has opened my eyes to the right way to get people on board with an initiative. I can now attest that talking at them isn’t compelling or effective. Now that I’ve spent six months at Root, I’d like to share six things I’ve learned about change management. If there is one thing I am certain of today, it’s that if I can help you shift your mindset, you’ll be surprised at how people rally to support your next change initiative.
Six Things I’ve Learned About Change Management in Six Months
- Talk with people, not at Speaking at your people is an outdated leadership practice. Today’s workers don’t welcome it when team leaders distribute activities and send them away with a task list to complete by the next day or week. People are interested in two-way dialogues. They want to know their opinions are welcome and that their leaders are taking their viewpoints into consideration when making new strategies, versus working in a vacuum.
- Tell the whole story. When I was leading a division of more than 100 people, we had calm periods and periods of massive restructuring and change. Were we fully informed during these times? Nope. The messages we received and were told to share with our teams included cherry-picked data that never told the whole story – just enough to justify the changes to the masses. I can vouch for the fact that this did not emotionally engage people on whatever journey we were about to embark on.
- Financials have their place, but don’t make money the cornerstone of your strategy. Yes, conversations about financials are important. The bottom line will always be an important part of a business. But you cannot simply make a strategy solely about financials – you must consider your people first and talk about the strategy from the human viewpoint before the financial viewpoint. People will reluctantly accept the financial conclusions of their leaders, but it won’t change their underlying behavior.
- Accept that change is constant. Living for a break from change is an unhealthy mindset to adopt, because change is a constant in the business world. Instead, try approaching things with a growth mindset. Change an undeniable way of life and running from it will fail you. Accepting it is key to your success.
- Make sure people know that their individual work is key to greater success. People want to be involved in the strategy because they don’t want to be talked at. They don’t want to know just a piece of the story. They want to understand that the work they are doing is important – not just to their own careers, but to the success of the whole. Because being part of something greater than ourselves is pretty powerful.
- A culture of honest communication is key. Most people prefer to be honest about the meeting after the meeting. It’s easiest to sit in an auditorium and listen to your leader, then go have the real talk with your friends. These are the conversations where the truth usually comes out. If this happens, you’re in trouble, because it means your people don’t support your strategy. However, if a leader focuses on the five previous priorities I’ve mentioned and creates an environment where people can connect with the changes, those conversations aren’t needed. People will feel safe speaking honestly whether they are among peers or leaders. Creating that honest environment is easier and more valuable than I once thought.
Change Is Good
Last year, I felt I needed a professional change, so I joined Root. I couldn’t have been more excited to focus on engaging both the hearts and minds of people, and to solve big business problems and put people into the equation. I still get my regular doses of data, but I also get to use that data to connect with people and create true change. In the past, I’ve been both engaged at work and disengaged at work. One means you’re happy at the dinner table, while the other means you’re not. What’s more important than that?
In this phase of my career, I plan to spend time combining my experience and expertise – what worked and what didn’t (like my lengthy PowerPoint presentations)– with Root’s purpose to enable more people to have more happy family dinners.